Christine Hancock, the Royal College of Nursing's general secretary, is expected to tell a conference on staff support that 360,000 days a year are being lost because of illness caused by the pressure of nurses' jobs.
Many are suffering from heart trouble and sickness caused by drug and alcohol abuse. But they are often frightened to talk about their problems because, following the case of Beverley Allitt, who is serving a life sentence for killing babies in her care, they are worried they will be considered unfit for work.
Ms Hancock is so concerned she is calling for the health service to set up a staff-welfare system to help nurses who have resorted to drink or drugs or suffered stress or mental illness.
She is expected to tell the conference - held by the East Wiltshire Health Care NHS Trust - that recent research puts absenteeism among nurses at twice the national average. In other recentstudies, 40% of nurses said they would leave the profession if they could and 20% said they planned to so within two years.
"Nurses are working harder than ever before, using new technology and adjusting to new working patterns," Ms Hancock said yesterday. "Most of them feel demoralised and undervalued. They feel they could get another job outside nursing with far less stress and far better pay."Reuse content